Selecta Biosciences was awarded a $3.2 million grant from Skolkovo Foundation to help fund development of an immunotherapy to treat cancers caused by HPV such as cervical, head, and neck cancers. The grant will be used to advance a synthetic vaccine particle (SVP) cancer immunotherapy, which is being designed to harness the body’s ‘killer’ immune cells, known as cytolytic T-lymphocytes (CTL), to attack HPV-transformed tumor cells.

In preclinical studies, SVP immunotherapeutics have reportedly demonstrated synergistic effects with anti-PD-1 and anti-PD-L1 antibodies, a family of checkpoint inhibitors under development for various cancers. Leveraging the immune-activating potential of its SVP immunotherapeutics, Selecta intends to broaden its CTL program to other cancer types and chronic infections in parallel to the HPV program.

“We see tremendous potential to leverage the durable CTL-activating SVP immunotherapeutics in conjunction with the emerging class of checkpoint inhibitors,” said Takashi Kishimoto, Ph.D., CSO of Selecta. “Immune checkpoint inhibitors relieve the immunosuppressive microenvironment found in tumors and chronic infections, while our SVP products elicit a focused and durable immune response specifically targeted against tumors and infected cells.”

In October, Selecta extended a research collaboration with Sanofi and JDRF to develop an SVP immunotherapy to treat and potentially prevent the underlying cause of type 1 diabetes. JDRF and Sanofi are co-financing the program. They are both long-term collaborators. Selecta began working with JDRF in June 2011 to treat autoimmune diseases and with Sanofi in 2012 to develop drug candidates for life-threatening allergies.